11:45pm ET — Greetings, fellow hoop lovers, and welcome to the ESPN 24-hour Marathon of Hoops Rush The Court live blog. John Stevens, here, ready to truly kick off the college hoops season in freakin’ insane style. I’ll be live-blogging the entire way — that’s right, baby, the WHOLE WAY! — so if you’re out there watching the games, by all means leave a comment.
Of course, I don’t mean to imply any connection between ESPN and RTC with the title of this post. But a while back it was posted here that ESPN really had a great idea when they came up with this, and I for one definitely appreciate that they’re kicking off their coverage in this way. So the title merely refers to the fact that…well, if they’re gonna broadcast it, I’m gonna watch it, and what the heck, I might as well live-blog it.
Why, you ask? Several reasons. First and foremost, my love for college basketball. This off-season has seemed especially long and I’m happy that my favorite sport is finally back. I’ve also got the next 6.5 days off from my real job, an occupation that sometimes has me up overnight anyway. So what better way to kick off my leisure time. I also assume that the more teams I familiarize myself with, the better served I’ll be when the annual mid-March (read: first-and-second rounds) Rush The Court field trip to Las Vegas happens. We go for the museums, but in case we happen to catch an early-round game on a gigantic TV (or six), well, I’ll know more about who I’m watching.
When RTMSF and I first talked about me live-blogging during this offering by ESPN, as usual he was worried about liability; he suggested I go have a quick physical to make sure I could make it through the next 24 hours intact. The address he gave me, though, turned out to be a guy working out of the trunk of his car behind the local movie theatre. I called RTMSF to verify that I had gone to the right place, and he said, “Yeah, the guy in the beret? Yep. That’s him. He’ll take care of you.” Naturally I fled, so let me just say that even though I haven’t been medically cleared for this, I’m doing it of my own accord.
So let’s do this thing. I’ve got 24 hours of college hoops ahead of me. I’ve retired to the cushy environs of the Rush The Court Eastern Compound and assumed a spot in one of our beautiful leather home theatre reclining chairs that would make Turtle from Entourage proud. I’ve got the three LCD HD’s going. I’ve got a fridge stocked with energy drinks. I’ve got a remote control the size of a law school textbook in my hands. I’ve got snow falling outside. And did I mention the 6.5 days off??? It’s time for some serious hoops. We’ll kick things off with UMass-Memphis in about 15 minutes.
12:09 am — We’re off. Two big pieces of news have already come down today, so let me mention them now. The biggest is the death of Pete Newell, a name that sounds strange to say without the words “Big Man Camp” coming directly after. His influence on the game of basketball is immeasurable. As you’ve seen already, not only did he achieve that rare (as in three people, ever) basketball trifecta of coaching an Olympic gold medal squad (1960), an NIT champion (1949), and an NCAA champion (1959)…he only worked with some of the biggest names in the history of the game via his Big Man Camp, like Abdul-Jabbar, Olajuwan, Walton, O’Neal, and countless others. He might not be one of the names that immediately comes to mind if you were to sit down and come up with a “Mt. Rushmore” of American basketball, but he sure makes a strong case.
The other bit of far-less-important news is that Tyler Hansbrough is a no-go against Kentucky on Tuesday night. Not surprised at this. It wasn’t discussed much last year, but quite frankly Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson outplayed Hansbrough; hoops fans who wanted to see how Hansbrough would respond will have to wait a while, unless UNC and UK end up meeting in the tournament somehow. It’ll have to happen in the NBA — and Kentucky fans hope it won’t be next year.
12:20am — We’re through two TV timeouts and this has been a YMCA game. More turnovers than field goals. Lots of threes gettin’ jacked up. UMass has come out in the “sagging man-to-man” which is daring Memphis to bomb away from the outside. They’re more than happy to oblige, which is why they find themselves only up one point almost midway through the half. This will probably be the trend in a lot of these games in the next 24 hours — sloppy Y-ball for the first half, then guys relaxing into their roles in the second and things becoming a little more organized.
12:45am — Memphis’ athletes are starting to assume control with about 5 minutes left in the first half. Tyreke Evans is an absolute pest on defense and despite the strange anatomy of his jump shot, it’s kind of nice to watch. UMass is relying on the drive-and-kickout right now, and Ricky Harris is keeping them in it. Memphis’ turnovers are helping, too. UMass only down 6 right now…
12:58am — Memphis with a 33-25 lead at the half. UMass is still in this game for two reasons: 1) Memphis’ shot selection, or lack of desire to work inside the paint. Robert Dozier is indeed the Tigers’ leading scorer with 12, but he’s 0/3 from the 3-pt line, and he has zero attempts from the line. 2) As soon as Memphis expanded the lead to double-digits and looked like they were about to out-athleticize the Minutemen, UMass showed an ability to grab a loose ball or force a Memphis turnover and capitalize on it. If UMass can calm themselves (no small feat in this environment), they can stay close and may find themselves within striking distance late. If Memphis calms down and plays to their strengths (size and athleticism), they could put this one away rather easily.
1:01am — We have a Tom Brennan sighting! He is very subtly giving a nod to his past at the University of Vermont, with the dark green blazer and yellow tie. He agrees with me in his assessment of the game so far — “It’s a mess.” Amen, sir.
1:15am — Shooting stats for the first half: From 3pt range…UMass 3/13 (23.1%), Memphis 1/12 (8.3%!!!). Egad.
1:22am — The second half starts with not much new…hectic pace, lots of bad shots. UMass is actually outhustling Memphis to every loose ball but they’re giving up some easy points off of turnovers. Memphis has decided to exploit their athleticism by picking up full court, but UMass seems ready; props to Coach Kellogg for prepping his team for this. Unfortunately for the Minutemen, on their last four possessions, Memphis has gone inside (a couple of ill-advised threes led to offensive boards) and the lead is now 11.
1:31am — Tony Gaffney is playing his butt off for UMass with 9 points and 12 boards, but Memphis is starting to look a little too long and quick. Tyreke Evans got an earful from Coach Calipari after a terrible three-point attempt, has gone inside on his last two touches, and scored twice. He’s got 17 now. Still…UMass continues to frustrate Memphis on defense…it’s still only 11 at the under-12 TV timeout.
1:42am — RTMSF just called me to tell me he’s going to the St. Mary’s game. Jackass.
1:46am — Memphis is starting to wear down the Minutemen and are getting some easy layups, and the lead is 61-44. The UMass players are standing straight up on defense. Coach Kellogg calls a timeout 2 seconds before the under-8 TV timeout — definitely a testimonial to the fatigue of his squad.
Calipari is begging his team not to chuck threes. It’s hilarious. Every time one of his players goes up for a long-range jumper, Calipari assumes the expression of someone who has just had his face farted on. His players have gotten the message, though.
1:56am — I’m not sure I’m on board with the Memphis home uniforms. The front is a clean white, and the back is a slightly darker beige/grey. UMass is of course wearing their away maroons, so at times, on the hi-def, it looks like there are three different teams on the floor. Maybe I’m getting a little chippy because it’s a 21-pt bulge (70-49) with five minutes left. And because RTMSF is going to the freakin’ St. Mary’s-Fresno State game.
2:04am — 76-49. Tony Gaffney’s played his tail off for UMass (14p 20r) but Memphis’ seemingly interchangable parts have put a lid on this one.
2:10am — It will be interesting to see what Memphis becomes as the year progresses, after this early-season Y-ball thing leaves them and Calipari helps each individual player grow into a well-defined role. But here’s the problem. UMass showed what the droopy man-to-man can do. Sometimes that wide-open three is too tasty to pass up, and there will be nights in the future where Memphis will have a 3-pt shooting night like tonight (2/19!!!) and their opponent will get hot. Memphis’ future will be determined by how well Calipari can institute discipline and persuade his team to use their athleticism and length to get inside baskets. So — on to St. Mary’s vs Fresno St.
I’ve been watching this one for a few minutes as the Memphis-UMass game was winding down. I’ve been wating to see Patrick Mills for a while, now, but after a quick 5 points he’s been a little quiet. Right now the remarkable thing has been St. Mary’s quickness on defense. They’re good on help defense and they recover well. They were 21st in the NCAA in blocked shots last year and no sooner do I type this when Fresno State’s Paul George just ABUSES some little St. Mary’s guy with a right-handed tomohawk jam that you’ll see on highlight shows for about a week. Good GOD, this thing was preposterous. The announcers are talking a lot about time zones referring to the five zones represented over the next 24 hours in the marathon. George’s arm was in another time zone when he started that dunk.
2:35am — I’m officially a Patrick Mills fan. He’s got 16 and there are 6 minutes to go in the first half. He’s got a picture-perfect jumpshot that coaches should be videotaping to use as instruction on how to get one’s shoulders squared before shooting. A while ago he hit a crazy wrong-handed twisting layup with a man going by him like he’d planned it minutes before it happened. And, as a native of Canberra (there are actually five Australians on the team) and a member of the Australian National Team, the crowd does the “Aussie Aussie Aussie!” cheer every time he scores. They even play Men At Work songs during timeouts.
2:47am — Mills has 19 with 3 minutes left in the half. 18 point bulge (53-35). Careful, Fresno State.
2:49am — RTMSF is emailing me photos from the game from his phone. I’m reminded of that scene in the South Park movie where, for absolutely no reason, Cartman looks over at Kenny and randomly tells him…”God, I hate you, Kenny.”
2:53am — Halftime. 55-42, St. Mary’s. Aside from Patrick Mills, the Gaels have a couple of things they do well as a team. There is the help defense/recovery as noted above. On offense, their spacing is excellent which gives Mills more room to work and actually opens up room to shoot threes, which they’re hitting so far (7/14). On the Fresno State side, the hype was mostly centered around Arizona State transfer Sylvester Seay (5p 5r at half), but the player to watch so far has been Paul George. Not only did he have that SICKENING dunk, but he’s incredibly quick and moves without the ball very well, especially in terms of finding those seams and gaps in the opposing defense that leads to good shots for him. Coaches call this “presenting yourself” or “making yourself available” for the ball, and George is good at it (13p 3r at half).
3:11am — Second half begins. St. Mary’s goes on an 8-2 run to start the half. Mills and (Omar) Samhan look like they’ve been playing together for longer than two years. A little later, Fresno State answers with a 7-0 run but that only cuts it to a 16-point bulge.
3:27am — Steven Bardo, doing color for ESPN, has proclaimed this year’s Big East as the toughest conference in the history of college basketball. There might be some ACCs in the 80s that could have something to say about that, but this should be an interesting topic of debate.
3:46am — The pace of this one has slowed. The last five minutes of game action have crawled. I have popped open my first energy drink. This is also done pre-emptively since the next game is Idaho State vs Hawaii. Fresno State’s getting a little furstrated and is starting to throw in some hard fouls (Mills was just fouled hard by Fresno’s Dwight O’Neil, but it wasn’t as bad as it looked live), so St. Mary’s has to keep their cool. It’s still a 15-point game (90-75) with 5:28 left, and Paul George is still impressive with 21p mostly earned by moving without the ball and finding the gaps.
4:11am — Not much to say about the last ten minutes of the second half. Fresno State never really made much of a comeback and it got pretty sloppy as the half progressed. Patrick Mills certainly had a nice game with 27p 2r 5a, but I think the story of this game might be Omar Samhan, who managed to slip in 18p 14r 2a 2b. A lot of that was due to Mills, but some of it was due to the efficiency of the St. Mary’s offense and the way they keep their opponents spread out on defense. The final was 99-85, St. Mary’s. The Gaels are denied the century mark, so SORRY, RTMSF. No free sub sandwich (or whatever) for your ride home! Tough break.
Now, on to the Hawaiian time zone for Idaho State-Hawaii. Idaho State is predicted 3rd in the Big Sky and Hawaii is projected at, um, 7th in the WAC. Idaho State’s colors are orange and black, and they’re the Bengals. That alone should mean that Hawaii should keep this competetive.
Roderick Flemings is likely the Rainbow Warriors’ main threat; he’s a JUCO transfer who got some very interested looks from teams like Connecticut and West Virginia, and even a short look from Kentucky if I recall. ESPN is claiming Matt Stucki as the man to watch from Idaho State, but he’s scoreless right now with most of the first half gone. Despite the lack of name recognition, so far this is actually the most exciting of the three games shown.
4:36am — Idaho State is doing to Hawaii what UMass was doing to Memphis earlier, meaning they are playing an incredibly loose man-to-man defense that’s just baiting Hawaii into taking long-range jumpers. Hawaii is currently 6/18 from the entire field and specifically 1/5 from 3pt range…so their logic is pretty evident. ISU isn’t doing much better, though; they’re 7/25 and 2/5, which is why it’s still close at 28-26, ISU.
4:53am — Halftime of Game 3…ISU 30, Hawaii 26. The story in this one is the pretty wretched shooting, with both teams hovering on either side of 30% (ISU 28.6, UH 30.4). At least this one may have the chance to be close at the end. Incidentally, I just tried to find a spread for this game even though I obviously can’t bet it (if such things were legal), but I’m a little ticked off that I can’t find what it was. Maybe I have a problem.
Obviously the story of this very young season is the VMI upset of Kentucky. True, Kentucky wasn’t ranked in the pre-season, but being the Leviathan program that they are, it’s still the story of the season at this early stage when they lose to a team like VMI, who is picked SEVENTH in their conference (The Big South) and is likely to spend most of the season in the deepest, darkest reaches of the RPI rankings. After it happened, RTMSF and I were discussing how this kind of thing could happen two years in a row (everyone knows what Gardner-Webb did to UK last year) and he made two points that bear repeating here. Unless Kentucky goes on a run where they win over 20 games in a row (not bloody likely) and cement their status early on as a #1 seed in the tournament, what they have done is basically cost themselves a seed. The VMI loss is such a BAD one in terms of likely RPI that if Kentucky gets into the Dance (we’re assuming that will still happen), if they’re destined to be a middle-seed — like in the 6-12 range — they’ll end up one spot BELOW that just because of the VMI loss. He later added that Kentucky fans realize that it is way, way too early to judge whether Billy Gillispie was a good hire, or what kind of coach he’ll be at UK. But one thing Gillispie needs to understand is that the concept of “It’s OK if we lose early as long as we’re better at the end of the year” doesn’t wash at Kentucky as far as including the early-season “cupcakes” like Gardner-Webb and VMI. Definitely some things for Kentucky fans to think about as their team gets ready for the Tarheels on Tuesday night, in a game that ESPN is hyping at almost every dead ball.
5:08am — OK, second half has started of ISU-UH. The shooting’s picked up a little with both teams looking inside a little more — ISU more in the half-court set, UH in transition — and we’ve got a pretty good game at 41-38 with 12 to play. What irony if the most exciting finish comes from the “filler” 4am game involving two of the lowest-profile teams in the Marathon. Uh oh…as I type, Lasha Parghalava — that’s right, I SAID LASHA PARGHALAVA!! — just banged a 3 for UH. 41-41, and we got a ballgame.
5:39am — Another sign I might have a problem. A friend wrote me an email moments ago telling me that the new U2 album, due out in January 2009, is to be titled (and this is based on nothing but rampant internet rumor) “No Line on the Horizon.” She asks at the end of the email what it was supposed to mean. The first thought that entered my mind was that someone couldn’t find a betting line for, say, Wright State versus Butler, or Valpo versus UW-Milwaukee. Maybe I should stop planning the RTC Vegas March field trip in November.
(You see, those teams play in the Horizon conference, and…well, fine. You get it.)
5:48am — Hawaii has come back to take the lead by a point — it’s currently 44-43 with about 6 to play. Hawaii’s full court press (the “Diamond” more than the true man-to-man) has caused ISU some problems and the UH point guard (Karim Nitoto) became more aggressive with the ball which has led to better shots for his teammates. ISU, I must say, looks remarkably poised for a team that is SERIOUSLY on the road in this game and is currently getting a HUGE lift from Amorrow Morgan.
5:58am — ISU 8-0 run…51-48 ISU.
6:01am — You can tell this is an exciting game, because it’s Idaho State vs Hawaii and I’m actually staying on it as opposed to turning over to Robin Meade on Headline News. And that’s sayin’ something. 53-53 with less than a minute!!….
6:16am — OVERTIME. Hawaii has come out making better decisions in terms of shot selection and are therefore up by 3 with about 2 minutes to play. ISU’s Kal Bay just jaunched a couple of threes that were unnecessary to say the least, both not very close. Amorrow Morgan (21 pts) just scored for ISU out of a timeout to make it 58-57 Hawaii…
6:18am — Roderick Flemings with an AND-ONE — but can’t convert the free-throw! ISU tacks on two FTs…60-59 Hawaii. This has turned into a great game. One minute left…
6:28am — UH hit two free throws to go up 5…then proceeded to give up a three for ISU. After getting fouled, UH missed one of two FTs, meaning a three for ISU would have tied it. But the in-bounds pass for ISU never found the hands of an ISU player, so the game ends in a Hawaii victory, 67-64. By FAR the best game of the night. The star of this game was Amorrow Morgan from Idaho State, with his 26 pts on 9/19 shooting, including 2/2 from 3pt range. But Hawaii gets their first win of the year.
So after only half of a single energy drink, we’re done with the first little installment of the ESPN Marathon of Hoops Live Blog. And RTMSF was talking about Rockstar and ephedrine…I mean, just because HE’S a sissy…
See you at 10am for Part II. Thanks for reading!